The Wallabies beat the All Blacks 25-20 in Brisbane to secure their first Tri-Nations title since 2001.
There’s something about this Wallabies team, something special. After beating the Springboks home and away, the latter result against the world champions’ preferred combination, they proceeded to defeat the best team in the world to claim the title. Beating the Blacks on their home turf at the World Cup will be a significantly more arduous task, but, on the evidence of this performance, they are undoubtedly the team most likely to deny this generation of All Blacks hosts the one achievement that eludes them.
Rarely are the Blacks made to look as impotent on attack as they were in the first half, the Wallabies’ punishing, precise and sustained defensive effort blunting them emphatically. This charge was lead by a group of forwards whose capacity to mix it with the visitors’ heavies was questioned pre-match. They dispelled those doubts with an immense effort at the gainline and counter-rucked ferociously all match to deny the Blacks the rapid recycle they so covet. Faced with a pack of pitbulls Graham Henry’s charges were reduced to poodles for 40 minutes. They would drag themselves off the canvas thereafter, but never recovered sufficiently to start throwing the haymakers needed to win the contest.
The Wallabies’ formidable challenge on defence was complemented by a strong, inventive and incisive attacking performance that yielded three tries. They could have upped that tally had Quade Cooper’s pass found an unmarked Digby Ioane in the early stages and had Mils Muliaina and Piri Weepu not combined brilliantly in their in-goal area to deny Adam Ashley-Cooper a certain try.
When they kicked they did so accurately, seldom allowing the Blacks’ back three time and space to launch counter-attacks. When they played through phases there was a purpose about it, forwards pounding up efficiently to establish a platform for their dynamic back division. Will Genia profited one such passage of play. With the defensive line depleted he faked to pass before sniping around a fringe guarded by two front rowers to score. Cooper kicked the conversion to go with an earlier penalty.
This was a collective effort of the highest note, but within that effort were moments of individual brilliance, the most outstanding of which came not of one of the young bucks, but veteran Radike Samo, who handed off Adam Thomson and sprinted 45m to score. If there were any ongoing concerns about his aptitude for Test rugby, they were shattered tonight.
The Wallabies led 20-3 at the break, but the Blacks reminded them of their pedigree and unrelenting spirit, reverting to a more pragmatic style and reducing the deficit through a penalty and converted try, the latter a 26-phase move culminating in Dan Carter dishing off a sublime back-of-the-hand offload to Conrad Smith. Five minutes later Ma’a Nonu gave a timely reminder of his class, stepping his way through the defensive line en route to goal, Carter adding the extras.
The tension was tangible, with the crowd’s noise level dropping off in anticipation of a stunning rebound. However, the Wallabies edged ahead once more, Genia again taking on and breaking the line before Ioane combined with Kurtely Beale. Cooper missed the conversion and then sent a penalty wide to keep the Blacks in the game with six minutes to play. However, Australia were resolute in defence and held on to claim a victory that will give them massive confidence going into the World Cup.